"Is he always like this?" I asked Joe Lindia, a guy from Providence who was Williams's driver, old friend and roommate for the three weeks of spring training. "Is he always...Ted?"
"Always," Lindia said. "You go with Ted, anything can happen."
Lindia told a story: In one of Williams's last seasons as a player, the Red Sox trained in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lindia went out to visit. One day, an off day, Williams said they should take a ride. They drove to the far edge of the town and went to a seedy motel. Williams directed Lindia to a certain room at the back. Lindia had no idea what was happening. Williams knocked on the door. An old man, looking as seedy as the motel itself, answered. "Joe," Williams said. "Say hello to Ty Cobb."
They went into the room with Cobb. A bottle of whiskey was opened. Cobb and Williams talked baseball for a number of hours. Cobb, it seemed, had one theory about hitting. It was directly opposite to Williams's theory. The argument became intense. The two men were shouting at each other. They looked as if they might come to blows. "Look, I know how we can settle this," Williams finally said. "Ty, you say one thing. I say another. Joe, what do you say?"
"Funny, huh?" Lindia said. "The two greatest hitters in the history of baseball. I'm the one who's supposed to break the tie. I couldn't hit a baseball for a million dollars."
On one of the last days of training camp, I went to dinner with my young family at one of those steak houses with an all-you-can-eat salad bar. My son was five years old. Maybe six. I guided him to the salad bar to fill up his plate. On the way back to the table, I noticed Williams was in a booth with four or five people. Lindia was one of them. I was going to keep going, but Lindia waved and said hello. I waved back. Williams looked and saw my son.
"Hey," he said in that loud voice, "that's a great-looking kid."
My son had no idea who the man was. He smiled.
"I mean he's exceptional," Williams said, even louder now. "A great-looking kid."
I could feel the eyes of everyone in the restaurant turning in my direction. It was like one of those "My broker says..." commercials. People were looking at Williams, then staring at my son. People were nodding their heads in agreement. Yes, a great-looking kid. My son.